Group 1 Hopeful Stakes Preview 2022

The final Japanese Group 1 of the year is the Hopeful Stakes for the two-year-olds over 2000m at Nakayama.

We were treated to a special performance by Equinox in Sunday's Arima Kinen and have seen plenty of future stars win this race in recent years, none more so than Contrail, who was having his third race start in 2019 and won in dominant fashion.

He ran to 117 by Timeform's scale that day, which is the equal highest rating in recent years with Saturnalia, who would go on to win the Satsuki Sho and run second to Lys Gracieux in an Arima Kinen.

Contrail of course would go on to win the Satsuki Sho, Tokyo Yushun, Kikuka Sho and Japan Cup and interesting to note, since the race became a Group 1 in 2017, all but one have run to 108 or above.

The only horse not to was Killer Ability last year, who won a maiden by 7 lengths before running second in the Hagi Stakes, a common lead up to the race along with the two Nisai Hai Stakes at Hanshin and Tokyo.

It's quite rare for a horse to come from nowhere to win the Hopeful Stakes, with the past 15 placegetters since 2017 all having run in the quinella at their previous start, so with that in mind, let's take a look at the key chances.

The premier form line looks to be the Group 3 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes, most recently used by Contrail as a lead up to win the Hopeful Stakes.

The winner of that race was Gastrique who ran to 115 with Timeform which is a surprisingly strong rating given Contrail himself won by 5 x 4 lengths and also ran to 115+, that mark-up absolutely justified later in his career.

Gastrique started $12.40 there off a good win in a newcomer race but he did get a good run midfield and had gaps open at the perfect time for him. On face value his 115 rating is very strong but I think there was a better run in the race.

Hearts Concerto ran to the same mark (97) as Gastrique on debut but looked very good doing winning by 8 lengths which sent him out as a $1.80 favourite in the Hai Nisai without the best of luck.

He missed the start noticeably and then raced three-wide at the tail of the field for a good portion of the race, having to loop very wide around the bend while Gastrique had gaps open at the right times through the field. He was still some 4-5 lengths off Gastrique and 8-9 off the leader in the straight but kept coming, looming as a serious threat at 0 but just peaking late, finishing 0.8L off the winner in third.

I'm happy to trust the market there and given he's now a longer price than Gastrique who started nearly 7x his price last start and got a much better run in transit, I'm of the opinion he can turn the tables.

The other main chance comes through the Habotan Sho, importantly at the Nakayama 1 1⁄4 m, with Mikki Cappuccino improving on a solid debut newcomer race, also at Tokyo, to win impressively by 3.5 lengths.

He ran just one pound below the others on debut (96) and made a good leap to run 110+ at Nakayama, getting the perfect run midfield before easing off the leaders' back in the straight and showing a sharp turn of foot to win under minimal urging. That + is important and backed up by the replay- if let go earlier he could've won by more and not finished so full of running.

I like the fact he's shown an ability to race just off the pace and I think there's plenty more to come. He's a strong winning hope and won't be a loser for me.

Of the others, Phantom Thief is undefeated from two starts. He ran to 100 on debut which is a rare feat but only marginally improved to 102 in the Nojigiku Stakes at Chukyo despite winning by 2 x 6 lengths. He's a chance but I have others ahead.

Current Australian markets have Gastrique a narrow favourite at $3.50 ahead of Mikki Cappuccino $3.75 and Hearts Concerto $4.50 and my market (to ~ the same %) would look more like Hearts Concerto Mikki Cappucino $3.75, Gastrique $5.5.

Happy to back Hearts Concerto and save on Mikki Cappucino and take on Gastrique as favourite given his SP and favourable run in transit last start.


Tip: Hearts Concerto

Danger: Mikki Cappucino

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